Confessions of an expat – One night stand

For the itinerant musician, or a traveller who can play, the open mic night can be the key to acceptance in a new community. You get up and do your thing – it’s only about three songs so you wheel out your hits and don’t have to worry about pacing a set. Give ‘em the good stuff and leave the rest to their imagination.

I used to run one of these in Grand Turk. Some weeks it was just me and the drummer who used to bring his djembe every week even though I had never actually invited him to. And there was also the local masseuse who would sing two or three to my guitar accompaniment. Bringing someone else on for a few minutes breaks it up a bit, particularly when most of the audience have seen you before several times.

Other weeks there would be holidaymakers who wanted to strut their stuff. As the host, to be honest, you want them to be quite good but not that good. Not good enough that the crowd notices they’re better than you. Unless it’s an actual star, a professional.

So, Thursday night at a bar in Coronado, Panama. The host, a singer-guitarist,  is about my age, which means he plays the same sort of stuff: Neil Young, Bob Dylan, James Taylor and any song of the 60s and 70s that sounds okay with one voice and an acoustic.

Based on my experience, I amble up and tell him I’d like to do a few, and I’m surprised when he refers me to a list of 10-minute slots between 7 and 9. They will all, he tells me, be taken. I put myself down for 8pm and sit down to listen to the cast of thousands.

He’s right: there are all sorts of people there and many of them want to play – or at least sing, because there is a karaoke option.

The host does his stuff, more relaxed and mumbly than is advisable in my opinion, and he’s wearing headphones, which probably makes him sound good in his own ears but doesn’t tell him what it really sounds like in the room. And then from a group of young teenagers, two girls get up and do Gimme Gimme Gimme by Abba. Then one sits down and the other gives us an Edith Piaf song, Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (No Regrets) complete with the French singer’s piercing, tremulous vocal styling. Impressive, certainly, but where did she learn this and why? I discover later that a local singing teacher gets all her girls to do it.

There’s a 60-something visiting Canadian woman who has obviously sung before, and in the absence of a musician who knows her material, does it acapella, slapping her thigh by way of percussion as she belts out Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz.

Then there are two teenage boys, one a nifty guitarist, who give us Stairway to Heaven (up to but not including the solo) followed by something 21st century that I don’t know. It occurs to me that the performers (who are getting younger as the evening draws on) are going to find themselves doing the closing slot when they may not be up to it. For this reason (I think) I go up and change my time to 8:50, so I’m closing the show.

This move is welcomed by a woman putting her young son’s name on and clearly nervous about the headline spot. She accepts my earlier one gladly and her eight-year old makes what may well  be his public debut in the safety of 8pm to 10 past.

Finally I get up, hoping the guitar is decent, which it is, and the sound balance is okay too. I’ve written down five song titles but reject two as I’m up there. Suddenly, without my trusty repertoire list, I can’t think what to do, but pick one that I like playing and  it goes okay anyway.

After a lifetime of gigs, many  requiring me to take sole responsibility, I’m still slightly nervous about doing ten minutes at an open mic. As ever,  I’m buzzing with adrenalin afterwards and unable to sleep, so I stay up late, drinking rum and listening to music.

As you get older, you have to keep testing yourself, making sure you’ve still got it. You can’t bow to youth just because it’s young people. The older stuff is still valid and the kids have to earn their place. After all, why does Mick Jagger keep doing it? It’s not like he needed the money.

The wisdom of pop songs – The nature of love

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts

It’s all very well the world’s songwriters basing their work on being in love, but there is a rather basic matter to be sorted out beforehand. To quote Howard Jones, “What is lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ove anyway?” We can disregard the next bit, “Does anybody love anybody anyway?” because it’s a nice line and he had a song to finish.

But the first part is a question that has been asked many times, from Foreigner’s whingeing “I want to know what love is” to Haddaway’s Trinidadian-German inquiry that comes just before “Baby don’t hurt me”.

So we know that whatever love is, it’s potentially hazardous.

Michael Jackson pointed out the difference between falling in love and being in love on his 1979 album Off The Wall. He can’t take any credit for such an incisive thought, though, because It’s The Falling In Love was written by Carol Bayer Sayer and David Foster.  Bayer Sager was well qualified to express an opinion, having been married to a record producer, had a relationship with the composer Marvin Hamlisch and spent most of the 1980s married to Burt Bacharach before ending up with a former chairman of Warner Brothers. She’s a pretty nifty lyricist – or knows people who are – as we can see by her quirky solo hit You’re Moving Out Today, co-written by Bette Midler and Bruce Roberts. Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t it infuriating when you can’t tell who did what?

Meanwhile, back at the concept, what is love? Is it that intense longing that comes at the start or is that just a form of lust and therefore doesn’t count? It’s certainly a confusing element, as the Partridge Family’s David Cassidy  demonstrated via I Think I Love You. You think? You only think? Come back when you’re sure. In fact the singer is not trying to make progress into a girl’s clothing by this  cautious expression of emotion: he’s afraid of suffering “a love there is no cure for”. Or rather the songwriter Tony Romeo was. That was his big moment, although he wrote other hits including Lou Christie’s I’m Gonna Make You Mine.

The Detroit Spinners didn’t seem to be afraid in their 1973 hit Could It Be I’m Falling In Love, written by Melvin and Mervin Steals (unless someone is winding me up about those names). They were just The Spinners in their native America, but in the UK we had a famous folk group of that name, so they were obliged to amend theirs.

Falling in love is the easy bit, as anyone who has been around that particular block knows. Falling in love only takes a minute, to quote Tavares before the disgraced English pop jack-of-all-trades Jonathan King grabbed himself a local hit with his own version.

In 1967 Diana Ross and the Supremes had given voice to Holland-Dozier-Holland’s (keep falling) In and Out of Love, a sort of sung expression of the old saying that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.

It’s sustaining it that’s the hard part, staying in love while life goes on around you, and the young can’t write about that because they haven’t experienced it yet. Therefore it falls to a slightly older crowd to bring it to us. Country music is a good source of such ageing wisdom, as evidenced by Shania Twain’s 1997 crossover hit You’re Still The One, co-written by her husband and producer Mutt Lange. Sadly, he is probably not still the one in real life, because he screwed the whole thing up by having an affair with Twain’s best friend and they divorced in 2010.

Billie Jo Spears spoke for a generation of still-in-love and still lusty women with 1975’s Blanket on the Ground, in which she proposes sacrificing a some of her precious  bedding to have a nostalgic romp in the dirt with her husband. Didn’t they have sleeping bags in her one-horse town?

A very different take on the subject comes from Jamaican singer-producer Sean Paul, who is breathtakingly frank when he tells his lover:

Blessings loving from the start but you know we had to part
That’s the way I give my love
I’m still in love with you
But a man gotta do what a man gotta do

And he’s not talking about having to go off to war or some other mitigating circumstance. It’s a track from his second album Dutty Rock, dutty being the Caribbean form of dirty.

But we can’t leave the subject on that note, so let’s turn to Al Green, with his typically chirpy Still in Love With You and Thin Lizzy with a very different song of the same name.

This love business is a marathon, not a sprint.

 

 

 

 

Kaycee’s Klasic Films – Local Hero

Siobhan Kennedy-Clarke’s classic film reviews
Our fictitious reviewer Siobhan (KayCee) didn't have much of an education but she's passionate about films

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This was written and directed in 1983 by Bill Forsyth, the same guy who did Gregory’s Girl and he is Scottish and likes to set his films in Scotland and use Scottish talent they’re very patriotic the Scots and if you’ve ever been there you will know there is a lot of beautiful unspoilt countryside and coast which is probably because of the climate it’s cold and wet a lot of the time so you can’t turn the coastline into a load of beach resorts.

That is kind of what the film is about there’s this rich American businessman Mr Happer (Burt Lancaster) who is the boss of the Knox Oil Company in Houston and he wants to build a refinery on the coast in northern Scotland because as you probably know there is a lot of oil and gas under the sea up there and oil rigs all over the place. He sends one of his young executives Mac McIntyre (Peter Riegert) to scout the place. Mac doesn’t see why he should have to actually spend time there because he could wrap the whole thing up with two or three telexes which was a sort of quick communication method before email and Whatsapp. I think.

Anyways he has to go and the Scottish guy who meets him over there and shows him around, Danny (Peter Capaldi the current Doctor Who) is  a quiet country lad and Mac is a stressed out city high flyer. They’re looking at a bay in a small village and its peaceful and lovely Danny is in love with this marine biologist played by Jenny Seagrove but she’s too sophisticated for him if you know what I mean.

Mac checks into a very small hotel run by Gordon (Denis Lawson) and his wife Stella (Jennifer Black) sorry about all these brackets and punctuation it gets on your tits don’t it? Gordon is quite similar to Mac in some ways but has lived a very different life and you can gradually see them both thinking that.

It’s the kind of small place where people sometimes have two jobs to make ends meet and Gordon is not just the hotelier but also the local accountant/business adviser.

The company really wants to buy the beach and a lot of the locals are willing to sell because they would become rich beyond their wildest dreams but the stumbling block is Ben Knox same name as the company see so there’s a link there. He’s played by Fulton Mackay who was famous as the prison warder Mr Mackay in Porridge TV comedy.

You can’t help being drawn into the peace and tranquility just like Mac is and he’s also very struck by Stella and Gordon knows but doesn’t mind funnily enough. Gordon even suggests one night when they’re both drunk that they should swap lives and Mac would have the hotel and Stella with it I don’t know if that’s romantic or pervy really but they don’t do it so I don’t suppose it matters.

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Big boss Happer eventually comes over partly because he is an astronomer and wants to see the Northern Lights those natural colours in the sky they get sometimes. What happens in the end well you’ll have to watch it yourself what would you like to happen in the end? It’s just a film that makes you feel good and you escape your life wherever that may be and live in a Scottish village by the beach for a while.

 

 

 

The wisdom of pop songs – Fire

Pop music being about youth and excitement a lot of the time, it’s not surprising that fire crops up. Not in the literal sense, that is, but as an indication of emotion.

One that did purport to be about the real thing was 1968’s Fire by  The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, a rabble-rouser if ever there was one, and appealing to teenagers even now. Sadly for Arthur, he burned brightly for a very short time and that was his only hit, although he has recorded plenty of music over the years and is apparently still at it. Incidentally, his band originally contained keyboardist Vincent Crane, who went on to form Atomic Rooster, into which drummer Carl Palmer later followed him before becoming part of Emerson Lake and Palmer.

Brown toured with Jimi Hendrix and managed to get thrown off the tour for safety reasons, in spite of Hendrix’s own predilection for squirting lighter fluid on his guitar and setting fire to it. And of course Hendrix had his own song called Fire, in which he urged the object of his affections to let him stand next to her “fire”. A figure of speech, no doubt.

Jerry Lee Lewis’s contribution to the theme came merely as part of an exclamation, goodness gracious, Great Balls of Fire, again as a result of an incendiary woman.

The Rolling Stones were also just playing with words when they wrote and recorded Play With Fire, a warning by the singer to a girl not to mess with him.

Deep Purple’s perennial favourite, Smoke on the Water, was about a real incident when Montreux Casino burned down after a concert by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. As the song tells us, “some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground”. This mattered to Deep Purple because, for whatever reason, they had intended to record an album in the casino, using the Rolling Stones’s mobile recording equipment.

And so was born a guitar riff that sounds easier to play than it really is, as fledgling rockers have been finding out for almost 50 years.

Many years later, Saturday Night Fever included Disco Inferno, in which the writers (no, not the BeeGees) imagined a blaze, so hot was the atmosphere in this particular palais de dance.

The Pointer Sisters, during their 1980s heyday, claimed to burst into flames courtesy of a kiss, although science has for centuries failed to prove or disprove the phenomenon of spontaneous combustion.

Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire is supposedly an attempt to absolve his rock’n’roll generation of the blame for the world’s ills – although it sounds more as if he’s just enjoying a bit of a reminisce and trying to make it sound like a rock song.

Possibly the most gentle fire song is Jose Feliciano’s acoustic guitar-powered version of Light My Fire, which was written by the Doors and recorded by them with a rampant organ… err, a  driving, organ-based accompaniment.

Self-indulgent as ever, I must mention The Fire by one of New York’s new wave bands of the 70s, Television. A dead-slow, basically nonsensical but emotional-sounding piece of poignant fantasy, I won’t bother you with a track to listen to, but if you ever come across their second album, Adventure, it’s on there. And tell them I sent you.

One that has always made me quite angry is The Prodigy’s firestarter, a vile and puerile piece of vitriol that makes me want to go round their house and lob a Molotov cocktail into the shed, if they think it’s so damn funny. It’s only a pop song, of course, but does this add to the beauty of human existence?

Current world favourite Adele mixed her metaphors with reckless abandon on Set Fire To The Rain, but then she could sing the Koran  in Greek and it would be a hit.

On one final note of self-indulgence, I give you Etta James (real name Jamesetta Hawkins – that’s what it says on Wikipedia, anyway), perpetual   bridesmaid in the pantheon of female soul singers. Well known in certain circles in the 1960s with songs such as I Just Want To Make Love To You, she faded badly before re-emerging in 1986 with an album called Seven Year Itch, on which she breaks your heart one minute and rocks like a bitch the next on tracks like Jump Into My  Fire.

Kaycee’s Klasic Films – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Siobhan Kennedy-Clarke’s classic film reviews
Our fictitious reviewer Siobhan (KayCee) didn't have much of an education but she's passionate about films

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Yeah going back a bit again 1969 some people think of this as a western but I don’t it’s set in those times but it ain’t at all like all those old cowboy films from the 50s its what is now known as a buddy movie.

There are four things I like about this first Paul Newman and Robert Redford both rather tasty don’t you think well I do. Second its funny some of the lines are hilarious its dry wit though kind of supple and I like that. Third the other characters there all good and fourth the music which is unusual I suppose done by Burt Bacharach and sometimes sung by the Swingle Singers who do arabella music with no instruments and no words just singing sounds you may not like that and I can’t say I’ve got much on my iPod but for the film it works great.

Butch and Sundance are outlaws part of the Hole in the Wall Gang it’s Butch’s gang really and they’ve been away for a while so when they get back to Hole in the Wall their hideout this giant guy Harvey thinks he’s taken over. He wants to settle it with a fight cos he’s so tough but Butch walks up to him and says he won’t start till they get the rules sorted out and he goes “Rules? In a knife fight? No rules,” and Butch kicks him right in the cobblers and wins.

Oh, even before that right at the start we find out that Sundance is a famous gunfighter he’s playing cards and someone accuses him of cheating. Butch comes in and tries to reason with the guy but he won’t listen and Butch goes, “I can’t help you Sundance.” The guy just about craps himself and says “I didn’t know you were the Sundance Kid when I said you were cheating. If I draw on you you’ll kill me.” And Sundance goes, “There’s that possibility.” Cool as a cucumber.

You know sometimes when I write these things I don’t want to tell you any good bits because if you haven’t seen it already there’s nothing like the first time but something like this you’ve probably seen before so shall I carry on I guess so.

They rob a train and the owner of the railroad is sick of it and hires a posse of the best lawmen, trackers and that that he can find. Great line from Butch: “If he’d just pay me what he’s spending to make me stop robbing him I’d stop robbing him.”

The screenplay (script) is by William Goldman and if this was all he ever done (which it wasn’t) he could of died happy it’s so good.

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Sundance has a girlfriend Etta (Katharine Ross) and they all decide to move to Bolivia to get away from the posse. There’s this nice bit of brown and white film as an interlude while they go to New York and get the boat to South America and the soundtrack goes all Swingle Singers and they arrive in this one horse town and Sundance is furious and then they find they have to learn Spanish to rob banks to tell the people what to do so Etta teaches them. It all gets very difficult and uncomfortable so she goes back home she’s a teacher and eventually the boys find themselves with half the Bolivian army against them.

Its great so funny nice scenery good music and everything I know it word for word but I still love watching it cos it ain’t one of those macho bang bang things although there is a bit of shooting.

 

 

The wisdom of pop songs – The greatest pop song ever

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You know that old thing where someone asks you what your five favourite songs are? It’s very difficult to answer, and even more difficult when you refine the rules. Does that mean five songs or five versions? Could you therefore nominate Like A Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Spirit, Patti Smith and The Rolling Stones?

What the question really means is which five songs would you take to a desert island if five was all you could have. Even then, it’s pretty hard to decide. For me the list would change every day.

But as a song lover, a student of – and dabbler in – the craft of songwriting, I recently came to this conclusion: the best pop song ever written is I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten, as recorded by Dusty Springfield in 1968.

And why do I state this so clearly? Because it’s a masterpiece of construction, instrumentation and production – with the obvious added bonus of being sung by one of the great pop voices.

The song was written by Clive Westlake, not a well-known name, but The Hollies had a hit with his Here I Go Again and his lesser-known material was recorded by, among others, Elvis Presley, Petula Clark and Tom Jones.

Westlake was a classically trained musician (Royal Academy of Music), which accounts for the majestic intro on grand piano. But it is piano played with verve, with joy, with key-shattering gusto. This owes a lot to the producer and pianist, who I’m assuming was John Franz, Dusty’s usual producer and a renowned pianist (although my internet search failed to come up with anything concrete). If you listen to live versions, the pianist is playing the same notes but it just doesn’t have the oomph, the magic.

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This wasn’t my idea. Bloody photographers.

Then we come to the construction, to describe which I have to get slightly technical on yo ass. Pop songs tend to go verse verse chorus verse chorus, possibly with a different bit in the middle which is often eight bars long and therefore known as a middle eight.

But look at this.

It isn’t the way that you look
And it isn’t the way that you talk
It isn’t the things that you say or do
Make me want you so

It has nothing to do with the wine
Or the music that’s flooding my mind
But never before have I been so sure
You’re the someone I dreamed I would find

It’s the way you make me feel
The moment I am close to you
It’s a feeling so unreal
Somehow I can’t believe it’s true
The pounding I feel in my heart
The hoping that we’ll never part
I can’t believe this is really happening to me

I close my eyes and count to ten
And when I open them you’re still here
I close my eyes and count again
I can’t believe it but you’re still here

We were strangers a moment ago
With a few dreams but nothing to show
The world was a place with a frown on its face
And tomorrow was just, I don’t know

But the way you make me feel
The moment I am close to you
Makes today seem so unreal
Somehow I can’t believe it’s true
Tomorrow, will you still be here?
Tomorrow will come but I fear
That what is happening to me is only a dream

I close my eyes and count to ten
And when I open them you’re still here
I close my eyes and count again
I can’t believe it but you’re still here
I close my eyes and count to ten
And when I open them, you’re still here

Two verses  (It isn’t the way… etc.) and what comes after them is the chorus: “It’s the way you make me feel…”

But then what happens? We get the “I close my eyes…” section, which is a kind of second chorus. The first would have been enough to make it a hit, but here you’ve got your ice cream with chocolate sauce and then some raspberry stuff on top. You’ve got your McDonalds fries with ketchup and mayonnaise. But this is the best one: you’ve got  your tequila with orange juice, which is nice, but then grenadine as well, making it a tequila sunrise and extra special.

So that’s the technical aspect. But that counts for very little unless the song just sounds and feels great. And it does.

It makes me glad to be alive.

Specifically it makes me glad to be alive in the pop era. William Shakespeare, Queen Victoria and even Marilyn Monroe might have had eventful lives and enjoyed many things, but they were gone by the time Clive Westlake and Dusty Springfield brought us their masterpiece.

Sir Winston Churchill missed it by a couple of years.

Billy Wells, the gong striker for Rank films, checked out with just months to go.

And Bobby Kennedy was assassinated at around the time the record was released in the UK.

And here it is. Pity about the dress, eh, ladies?

Kaycee’s Klasic Films – Anjelica Huston

Siobhan Kennedy-Clarke’s classic film reviews
Our fictitious reviewer Siobhan (KayCee) didn't have much of an education but she's passionate about films

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Hollywood is full of beautiful women and the real world is full of women who wish they looked like them I think you’ll agree that’s true. It’s different for men because they can have character roles in movies and then become really big when they get older and looks don’t matter so much.

But for the ladies no one wants to look at a non-stunning girl see I’m not talking about revolting like a witch with a spiky nose and rotten teeth I’m talking about you and me the average women in the street. Sure, we get along okay and there are potential partners out there who think we’re beautiful because they love us but generally speaking it’s easier if you look like Marilyn Monroe.

But once in a while you come across a woman who breaks the rules and manages to get cast in good roles in spite of the fact that when she sees herself in a photograph, she must think, “Why is this funny looking woman always in my pictures?”

I’m writing about this because last night I watched a film in which Anjelica Huston was the only adult female. She had a cameo they call them a brief appearance but since almost every film has to have a woman for people to lust after she must of been it.

Anjelica’s mother was a ballerina and her father was John Huston, a director, and her grandfather was Walter Huston an actor. So I guess showbusiness was in her blood. She started off as a model so obviously somebody thought her looks were unusual but not unattractive and so did Jack Nicholson who she was with for a long time.

She is a kind of role model for girls who aren’t what we would call normal-pretty it’s not having that perfectly proportioned face and body its how you carry yourself and a lot of it is to do with appearing to be happy with yourself. If you’re giving off the kind of feeling that says “Don’t look at me cos your eyes will get dirty” you’re putting a nail in your own coffin. You don’t have to be cocky either mind you or you’ll make a fool of yourself just be confident your all woman and your as good as anyone else okay that’s enough of Kaycee the guru what do I know about it.

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Dead sexy: Anjelica Huston as Morticia Addams

So Anjelica has had a decent career with films like The Postman Always Rings twice (with Jack), Prizzi’s Honor and The Grifters and if your wondering the one I mentioned with the cameo was Seraphim Falls with Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson. She was Morticia in The Addams Family (extremely sexy I reckon) and she did a couple of Woody Allens.

Two others who have flown the flag for the woman of character are Judi Dench and Barbra Streisand. Somebody once said of Judi “She’s not beautiful but she can play beautiful” by play they mean act and that’s what I was talking about she dresses well holds her head up and gives it some serious dignity. Being the first female M in James Bond she had to be tough and believable in that way but you also got the feeling that Bond quite fancied her and if they did get together for a night he might learn a thing or two.

As for Barbra she’s such a character that if she wanted you to think she was once an Olympic hurdler and Miss World you’d believe her.

It’s a short list because like I said at the start the film world is full of pretty little things no disrespect to them but there is room for other types too not just Nicole Kidman and Michelle Pfeiffer  there’s hope for us all.

 

The wisdom of pop songs – Songs about occupations

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts

Writing a song that’s more than just a close-up of a relationship can require a bit of scene-setting, and just occasionally we get to find out what somebody does for a living.

One of my favourites in this category is Glen Campbell’s 1968 song Wichita Lineman, in which the narrator tells us straight off:

I am a lineman for the county
And I drive the main road
Searching in the sun for another overload

It was written by Jimmy Webb, who was also the man behind By The Time I Get to Phoenix and Macarthur Park, which tells you he put more detail and imagination into his lyrics than most writers.

A lineman is someone who maintains and repairs overhead power lines or telephone lines, and in a rural area that must be lonely work, stuck up a pole in the back of beyond. This is a love song, or rather a song of love and loneliness – it’s certainly not happy, but he’s not complaining about his job, just his personal life.

By contrast, Lee Dorsey’s Working in the Coal Mine, written by Allen Toussaint and originally a hit in 1966, is all about how he’s stuck in this dirty, dangerous job and is too tired to have fun.

One of Paul Simon’s most intriguing lyrics is from the Bridge Over Troubled Water album. So Long Frank Lloyd Wright is about a famous architect, or rather it uses his name. It’s written as to an old friend recently deceased and is daringly close to being a love song. One theory is that Art Garfunkel, who had studied architecture, challenged his master-songwriter partner to write about this man, whom Simon had never heard of. Whatever the truth may be, it’s a beautiful, haunting, wistful piece of music that transcends it subject matter.

Also from the Sixties, as are all the songs so far, is Tim Hardin’s If I Were  A Carpenter, which examines a relationship and speculates if it would have worked if things had been different. It must be uncomfortable listening for any gold-digging woman who has hooked up with a rich man purely for his money. With the roles reversed, he a humble craftsman and she a posh woman, would the attraction have been there?

If gambling can be said to be a career – and professionals do exist – it has certainly been dealt with in song. Most famously, there is Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler. Written by country tunesmith Don Schlitz in the mid 70s, it didn’t reach the global public until Rogers’ version in 1978. It’s about meeting a gambler on a train, and he can’t have been on a good streak because he has to bum a cigarette and a swig of whiskey before he imparts some wisdom about knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em and so on, and then quietly dies.

Less successful but equally catchy was I’m a Gambler, by Lace, which got a lot of airplay in the UK in 1969 but didn’t make the charts. This was written by one of the unsung heroes of the golden era of British pop, Pete Dello, who among other things was the leader of Honeybus and wrote their smash I Can’t Let Maggie Go as well as Do I Still Figure In Your Life. I’m a Gambler was reissued four years later, under a new artist name, Red Herring, but still failed to set the world alight.

Incidentally, Madonna’s song of the same title is nothing like Dello’s little gem. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with actual gambling either; it’s just Her Royal Highness showing she can talk tough just like a man.

Doctors feature quite heavily as far as being mentioned in song titles is concerned, but closer inspection reveals precious little in the way of detail about surgery, stethoscopes and so on. The Beatles’ Doctor Robert, for instance, is about a drug dealer, while Jackson Browne’s Doctor My Eyes is an imaginary conversation with a medic about the patient’s love life.

The Beatles’ Paul McCartney picked an unlikely object of love and lust in Lovely Rita, where he sings the praises of a traffic warden, even if he does say that her uniform and the bag across her shoulder “made her look a little like a military man”.

Steely Dan’s Doctor Wu is just a playful piece of imagery associated with a… well, it’s very obscure and probably about nothing.

Waitresses get a fair bit of coverage, but again, without detail about the intricacies of carrying plates and clearing tables. Bruce Springsteen mentions one in Sandy (4th of July, Asbury Park), but only as part a confession to his girlfriend, with the assertion that he’s not seeing this waitress anymore because she’s gone off him.

The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me bitches about how the singer rescued the girl from her menial life and now she’s dumped him.

You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
When I met you
I picked you out, I shook you up
And turned you around
Turned you into someone new

Well guess what, tough guy? You can’t help people and expect them to spend the rest of their life devoted to you because of it.

Being a pop star, of course, is itself a job, and unsurprisingly the world is full of songs about this, from The Byrds’s So You Wanna Be A Rock’n’Roll Star to Abba’s Thank You For The Music. Along the way there is Superstar, written by Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett and recorded by, among others, Rita Coolidge and The Carpenters, each time with the big-voiced girl mooning about the guitarist she wants but can’t have.

Barry Manilow’s monster hit I Write The Songs was actually penned by Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys. It was featured on an album by The Captain and Tennille and as a single by David Cassidy.

Teachers – now there’s a goldmine for us. A lot of the songs are a bit un-PC in this day and age, from Lulu’s To Sir With Love to The Police’s Don’t Stand So Close To Me, but the student’s crush on the the man standing at the front is a recurring fact of life. Lulu’s question, “What can I give you in return?” is unmitigated, inflammatory flirting requiring a cold bath and a dose of bromide in the teacher’s tea.

So, plenty to choose from but nothing about dentists, chiropractors or roadsweepers. But hang on, gentlemen of the streets: there’s King of the Road, Roger Miller’s early 60s classic about being a poor drifter doing what he can to survive.

Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room

Nothing about estate agents, chefs or bloggers, but maybe there’s hope for all of us.

 

Kaycee’s Klasic Films – The Lacemaker

Siobhan Kennedy-Clarke’s classic film reviews
Our fictitious reviewer Siobhan (KayCee) didn't have much of an education but she's passionate about films

lace 1

This is the kind of film I don’t really expect anyone else to like you might have some like that yourself you don’t know why you like it so much but you just do. You’ve probably never heard of it so I’ll tell you everything from the start.

It’s French and came out in 1977. And it’s in French so you have to look at the subtitles, but that’s okay you can read even I can read and isn’t there some theory that only a small percentage of communication is by words? You get so much out of the Lacemaker from the atmosphere and the pictures it’s about this very shy girl Beatrice in Paris played by Isabelle Huppert she’s a trainee hairdresser does the shampooing and stuff and she’s 20 something but lives with her Mum and she only seems to have one friend Marylene whose older and more worldly than she is more outgoing more of a laugh you could say so she gets more blokes than Beatrice.

At the start of the film Marylene gets dumped by her current guy and gets really upset and it looks like she’s going to jump out the window but Beatrice stops her. Marylene decides to go to the seaside for a break to cheer herself up and she asks Beatrice to go along so she does. Of course as soon as they get there Marylene pulls a guy and she’s off having fun with him and Beatrice is left to her own devices funny expression ain’t it but you know what I mean. She meets a student called Francois whose a nice quiet guy and they begin this romance the French are very good at this sort of thing it seems very unlikely that them two would get together in real life but then you think of Beatrice’s friend Marylene who is also very different from her so maybe she attracts more sophisticated people because she’s so calm and innocent I don’t know.

Anyways when the holiday is over Beatrice moves into Francois’ flat in Paris and meets his parents and his friends but that’s a disaster she’s so shy and nervous and can’t relax with the family although you can tell Francois’ Dad likes her but the friends well it makes me uncomfortable every time. There all intellectual and talking about politics and heavy stuff and Beatrice has nothing to say for herself she’s out of her depth. So that’s when the film stops being romantic and starts being tragic.

lace 2
Love’s young dream pity it doesn’t last forever eh?

They split up and Beatrice gets really down and ends up in a mental hospital see you wouldn’t get this kind of thing with a British or American film but the French seem to love it or love writing about it anyway some guy I used to know got me reading novels by Francoise Sagan and her stuff’s like that all doomed romances. It was him who showed me this film the first time at a trendy little cinema in the West End come to think of it him and me were a bit like Beatrice and Francois I suppose except I didn’t go mad well they haven’t locked me up yet!

I don’t suppose it sounds like much fun well fun is exactly what it isn’t but I love watching this on a wet Sunday afternoon or a quiet night in with a few glasses of Prosecco that’s Italian white wine a bit sparkly. If your watching with a friend make sure its someone sensitive or they’ll think your soppy. Oh yes, and the subtitles are diabolical I don’t know who did the translation but it looks like it was the director’ 10 year old daughter but like I said it’s the atmosphere that’s so great.

 

The wisdom of pop songs – Boredom

Boredom may not be exclusively the province of the young, but it’s young people who complain about it. As soon as we become old enough to give an assessment of life, we see it as disappointing. It should be more exciting. Why can’t I be James Bond or Spongebob? This town/village/capital city is a drag. Nothing to do.

This is reflected in pop songs, where although the acts we see associated with the boredom songs may be middle aged, elderly or dead by now, the songs they brought us came early in their career.

The Lovin’ Spoonful, making a long-overdue debut in this blog, sang mainly about young love and optimism. John Sebastian was that kind of guy, and he was mature for his years too. But when touring became a chore  he told us all about it in a song called Boredom.

Boredom: hanging by myself
In a bleak motel
Overnight in a small town

What happened to the groupies and marijuana, that’s what I want to know. Surely he wasn’t bored with them too.

Around the same time, the late 60s, The Statler Brothers had a minor one-off hit with Flowers on the Wall, in which a rejected boyfriend tells his cruel lover what it’s like being without her.

That sort of whingeing gets you nowhere, but try telling that to a lovesick fool – and we’ve all been that person.
In the 70s The Clash brought us I’m So Bored With The USA, which  was a punked-up version of the idle rich’s idea of boredom. They weren’t bored with the USA at all, just resentful of the country’s attitudes.

Morrissey, a far more suitable candidate to express this sort of thing, wrote and recorded one of his fascinating little slices of life in 1991 on the Kill Uncle album, the splendid first lines of which are

Your boyfriend he went down on one knee
Well could it be he’s only got one knee?

He then goes on to tell us about the obnoxious girl, including this:

I tried to surprise you, I crept up behind you
With a homeless Chihuahua
You cooed for an hour
Then handed him back and said “You’ll never guess,
I’m bored now”

You will note that these are not hugely commercial songs. Boredom is not a money-spinner.

American indie band The Eels droned spookily in the 1990s with Novocaine for the Soul, a typical tale of young disillusionment:

Guess whose living here
With the great undead
This paint-by-numbers life
Is f***ing with my head

All together, parents: Get out of that bedroom and wash my car!

The Pet Shop Boys, an act with dilettante tendencies, brought us Being Boring, a response to criticism by someone in Japan who didn’t think they were exciting enough for a band.

“Spokesman for a generation” Pete Townshend of The Who tackled the subject on their 1974 concept album Quadrophenia, which amounts to one long tale of woe for a young man let down by life. On the hit single 5:15, for instance,

Magically bored
On a quiet street corner
Free frustration
In our minds and our toes

Treatment in this case was administered in the form of drugs: amphetamines and barbiturates, as required.

The master of the yawning-in-his-silk-dressing-gown approach was a much earlier songwriting genius, Cole Porter, who summed up the dinner-and-cocktails lifestyle of his 1930s contemporaries in I Get a Kick Out of You.

I get no kick from champagne
Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all

Some versions (and there have been many, from Frank Sinatra in 1954 to the 1970s’ Gary Shearston) include cocaine on the list of things that fail to get the singer going. Ho hum, what is to be done with these people?

A more circumspect view came from Jethro Tull on their second album, 1969’s Stand Up, and the song Back to the Family, where songwriter Ian Anderson sings about a character not unlike himself, under pressure with work in London and retreating to the his home in the country, where he immediately misses the buzz of the city.

Rod Stewart had a good idea when he was bored in 1972: write to an old flame, a few years your senior, and try to rekindle some action. You Wear It Well may have been a thinly-veiled retread of Maggie May, but it lolloped along with a sort of lonely swagger.

The Rolling Stones in the late 60s had taken the  drug-treatment line on Mother’s Little Helper, the bored housewife resorting to some chemical assistance from “a little yellow pill”.

The problem was still also in the 80s, as Tears for Fears with Mad World, a simmering stew of disappointment, tedium and desperation. And as for the 21st century, well… yawn… I don’t know if I can be bothered. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz